Dustin Winter was sentenced to life in prison for 2019 murder. (Greene County Jail)

A Springfield man was sentenced to life in prison Friday, Jan. 20, for a murder in which the body was never found. The accused made incriminating Google searches for phrases such as:

“Sulfuric acid on animals”

“Can acid dissolve a body?”

“55 gallon drum”

So-called “no body” murder cases are not rare, according to a Jan. 19 Washington Post news story about a similar case that has not gone to trial. The defendant in that Massachusetts case reportedly used his child’s iPad after his wife had disappeared to Google, “Can you be charged with murder without a body?”

Here in Greene County, Dustin Winter, 33, was found guilty by a jury in September for the July 2019 kidnapping and murder of Elijah McReynolds, 34, who disappeared that month.

Police with a canine searched for his body in the Mark Twain National Forest but never found it.

The prosecutor in the case, Philip Fuhrman, has been with the office 13 years. This was his first murder case in which there was no body.

The lack of the body of the victim means the prosecutor must prove an element that normally isn’t contested, he said.

“It essentially gives them an additional argument and an element that we have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Fuhrman said. “Typically, the death in a murder case is the undisputed part of a case.”

Circuit Judge David Jones sentenced Winter to life in prison.

Two others sent to prison on lesser charges

Two other defendants involved in the murder have already been sentenced. They were charged with lesser crimes.

William Alexander Skaggs, 26, of Strafford, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for kidnapping, and Kaleigh Pickle, 27, also of Strafford, was sentenced to five years in prison for assault in the first degree.

The office of Dan Patterson, Greene County prosecuting attorney, today released a press release on Friday’s sentencing.

The release stated Winter believed the man he killed had previously assaulted an acquaintance, and Winter lured him to a house in Springfield under the pretense of helping with a move.

In addition, according to the release, Winter sent messages to the person he thought had been assaulted, stating Winter was going to make sure McReynolds suffered a slow and agonizing death.

According to the probable cause statement filed in this case, the woman responded to Winter with the text: “Please stop this self destruct patern Dustin.”

GPS location information was also introduced at trial to place Winter and the victim together and to show that Winter later drove to remote locations in the Mark Twain National Forest, according to the press release.

High-speed chase ended in Marshfield

According to the press release:

“The defendant had forced the concerned citizen to clean a U-Haul van that had blood inside as well as rope believed to have been used to restrain the victim.

“Investigators found the defendant had rented a U-Haul van and failed to return it. When investigators located the van and the defendant, he led them on a high-speed chase ending near Marshfield.

“During a search of the van, blood was discovered and additional testing resulted
in a DNA profile matching that of the victim.”

According to the probable cause statement filed in this case, police also seized a “cellular phone and other items in plain view.”

Assumption of no body/no murder not always true

Despite what some assume, the adage that a body is needed for a murder conviction is not necessarily true.

Thomas A. “Tad” DiBiase, a former federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia, tracks “no body” murder cases. In fact, he refers to himself as the “No Body Guy.”

His data show that 86 percent of more than 500 such cases that made it to trial from the 1800s to 2020 resulted in conviction.

In the press release, Patterson commended the work of the Springfield Police Department and Detective Kelly Patton, lead investigator.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin